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Zoe Mozert (American, 1907-1993)
Birth Place: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Zoe Mozert was an American illustrator and model, known first from the pulps of the 1930s, then later for her film and commercial work. Her pastel-painting style and unorthodox (for the time) depiction of her subjects makes her work both prescient and in-demand. While almost her entire catalog consists of commercial art, there is a depth of emotion and form not often found in these populist artforms.
Born Alice Adelaide Moser (April 27, 1907), in Colorado Springs, Colorado, much of Mozert’s early life was transitory. After stints in rural hamlets like Beaver Dam City, Wisconsin, and Newark, Ohio, Mozert’s family eventually settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania where her father became superintendent of the Scranton Stove Works. The family’s growing prosperity meant that Mozert was educated at the prestigious boarding school, Fairfax Hall.
Mozert spent most of the 1920s studying her craft, first at the LaFrance Art School, then later at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art. It was here where she would meet and study under Thorton Oakley, the famed turn-of-the-century illustrator who had come into some fame through his illustrations of popular adventure novels. This mentorship proved crucial to Mozert’s nascent aesthetics.
During this time Mozert would also begin modeling to pay for her school. First, for fellow pulp artist, H.J. Ward, then later for her own paintings. Mozer would often pose for her own work, using mirrors or photography as references for her art. She began her career as a commercial artist in 1927 for the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, but Mozert soon realized that to truly flourish as an artist, she would have to move to the advertising mecca of the world, New York City.
Mozert moved to New York in 1932. Her first freelance work came from one of the pulp magazines of that era, Bernarr Macfadden’s True Story (1932). It was during this time that she adopted the pen name, Zoe Mozert. While a professional norm at the time, Mozert had fun adopting the new persona, but downplayed its significance. "I looked through a name dictionary for a new first name,” Mozert said in an interview. “When there were finally no pages left, I settled on Zoe."
Between 1934 and 1937, Mozert became an in-demand pulp artist. While her work was extremely sensual, her subjects were more than their sexuality, often depicting realistic women in moments of genuine eroticism rather than the sordid, empty-eyed women depicted by other pulp artists. Her pastel style owed a heavy debt to Rolf Armstrong, but her tutelage under Oakley (himself a student of Howard Pyle) gave her paintings movement, humor, and a sense of adventure that set them apart and made them instantly recognizable today.
The quality of Mozert’s work allowed her to thrive in the traditionally male-dominated field of illustration. During this time she created the poster for the Paramount Pictures film, True Confession (1937), as well as illustrated advertisements for Dr. Pepper, Kool Cigarettes, and Irresistible Beauty Aids. During World War II, her Victory Girls (1940-1945) series made her one of the most well-known pin-up artists in the world. She would sign a 15-year contract with Brown & Bigelow, a fruitful and significant relationship that would continue almost until her retirement in 1978.
Mozert’s work is now iconic and ingrained into our national identity in a way few other artists have been able to manage. Her pastel paintings elicit strong emotions and bond us to the past in a way that makes these works feel as vibrant, alive, and sensuous today as they did the day she painted them.
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